Calico Pennant dragonflies (males)

June 29, 2017

Several Calico Pennant dragonflies (Celithemis elisa) were spotted during a photowalk at Painted Turtle Pond, Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Prince William County, Virginia USA.

20 JUN 2017 | OBNWR | Calico Pennant (mature male)

These individuals are mature males, as evidenced by their terminal appendages and red coloration.

20 JUN 2017 | OBNWR | Calico Pennant (mature male)

The next photo is my favorite in this set…

20 JUN 2017 | OBNWR | Calico Pennant (mature male)

And the last photo is a close second-favorite.

20 JUN 2017 | OBNWR | Calico Pennant (mature male)

Copyright © 2017 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Calico making the case for claspers

June 27, 2017

A Calico Pennant dragonfly (Celithemis elisa) was spotted at Painted Turtle Pond, Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge (OBNWR), Prince William County, Virginia USA.

Mature adult female Calico Pennants are yellow; mature adult male Calico Pennants are red. So the following individual must be female, right? Wrong!

20 JUN 2017 | OBNWR | Calico Pennant (immature male)

This individual is an immature male, as indicated by his terminal appendages and yellow coloration.

Male dragonflies have three terminal appendages, collectively called “claspers,” that are used to grab and hold female dragonflies during mating: an upper pair of cerci (“superior appendages”); and a lower unpaired epiproct (“inferior appendage”).

20 JUN 2017 | OBNWR | Calico Pennant (immature male)

(See a full-size version of the original photo, without annotation.)

In contrast, female dragonflies have a pair of cerci (superior appendages) that have little or no function.

20 JUN 2017 | OBNWR | Calico Pennant (female)

(See a full-size version of the original photo, without annotation.)

Color can be a deceptive field marker. Immature males appear similar to immature females of the same species (and some mature females) for many types of dragonflies that display sexual dimorphism. This is true for many members of Family Libellulidae (Skimmers), such as Calico Pennant. Terminal appendages may be used to differentiate gender for many species of dragonflies.

20 JUN 2017 | OBNWR | Calico Pennant (immature male)

Related Resource: Odonate Terminal Appendages — single-topic field guides for dragonflies and damselflies featuring both text and annotated photos.

Copyright © 2017 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Lancet Clubtail dragonfly (male)

June 25, 2017

A Lancet Clubtail dragonfly (Phanogomphus exilis) was spotted during a photowalk at “Straight Fork Beaver Ponds,” Highland County, Virginia USA. This individual is a male, as indicated by his terminal appendages and “indented” hind wings.

09 JUN 2017 | Highland County, VA | Lancet Clubtail (male)

This male Lancet Clubtail was spotted at the same location as a male Harpoon Clubtail dragonfly (Phanogomphus descriptus) featured in a previous post. Lancet Clubtail is a relatively widespread species of odonate, in contrast with Harpoon Clubtail.

09 JUN 2017 | Highland County, VA | Lancet Clubtail (male)

Bonus Bug

Look closely at the preceding photo. Did you notice the exuvia from another type of aquatic insect, possibly either mayfly or stonefly? I didn’t see the exuvia when I shot the photo, and missed them again when I post-processed the image. Sometimes I get so focused on the subject that I don’t see the bigger picture.

Tech Tips

The photos were taken using a Fujifilm X-T1 digital camera, Fujinon 55-200mm zoom lens, and Fujifilm EF-X500 shoe mount flash.

Copyright © 2017 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Another record shot

June 23, 2017

A Black-shouldered Spinyleg dragonfly (Dromogomphus spinosus) was spotted by Mike Boatwright during a photowalk at Columbia Boat Landing, Cumberland County, Virginia USA. This individual is a female, as indicated by her terminal appendages and rounded hind wings.

This photo is a “record shot” of another species of dragonfly spotted during a road trip with Mike to two locations along the James River in central Virginia. Not my best work, but hey, the photo provides documentation of the first Black-shoulder Spinyleg I’ve seen this year. With any luck, it won’t be the last.

Tech Tips

The photo was taken using a Fujifilm X-T1 digital camera, Fujinon 55-200mm zoom lens, and Fujifilm EF-X500 shoe mount flash.

Copyright © 2017 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.text…

“Record shot”

June 21, 2017

As a wildlife photographer with a focus on insect photography, one of my mantras is: “Get a shot, any shot; refine the shot.” In other words, don’t miss the opportunity to document a spotting by trying to get a great shot first.

11 JUN 2017 | Fluvanna County, VA | Dragonhunter (male)

The preceding photograph — heavily-cropped in order to compensate for the distance to the subject — is a “record shot” (at best) of a male Dragonhunter dragonfly (Hagenius brevistylus) that was spotted at the Hardware River Wildlife Management Area, Fluvanna County, Virginia USA.

The dragonfly was photographed from the banks of the Hardware River, approximately 20 feet above the water. Distance seems to be compressed in the photo, an effect of the mid-range telephoto lens used to take the shot. The Dragonhunter was perching ~10 feet above the water. I settled for a “record shot” since there was no way to get closer to the subject.

Tech Tips

The photo was taken using a Fujifilm X-T1 digital camera, Fujinon 55-200mm zoom lens, and Fujifilm EF-X500 shoe mount flash. Adobe Photoshop was used to remove a small distracting element from the left edge of the photo.

Editor’s Note

Thanks to fellow Virginians Karen Kearney and Mike Boatwright for adding the phrase “record shot” to my vocabulary.

Copyright © 2017 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Allegheny River Cruiser dragonfly (male)

June 19, 2017

An Allegheny River Cruiser dragonfly (Macromia alleghaniensis) was netted by Mike Blust at Hardware River Wildlife Management Area, Fluvanna County, Virginia USA.

The complete yellow ring around abdominal segment seven (S7) is a distinctive field marker for this species. This individual is a male, as indicated by his hamules and terminal appendages.

Allegheny River Cruiser is a good candidate for netting, that is, if you want to get a close look at one.

Males fly rapidly up and down streams, mostly but not always near shore, usually quite low… . Cruise up and down roads through woodland, in sun and shade, or fly up higher into forest canopy. Source Credit: Paulson, Dennis (2011-12-19). Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East (Princeton Field Guides) (Kindle Locations 7313-7315). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.

The following map shows all official records for Allegheny River Cruiser in the United States of America. Notice the records are roughly coincident with the Allegheny Mountains, from which part of the common name for this species is derived.

Source Credit: Abbott, J.C. 2006-2017. OdonataCentral: An online resource for the distribution and identification of Odonata. Available at http://www.odonatacentral.org. (Accessed: June 13, 2017).

Allegheny River Cruiser is a new species of dragonfly for my life list.

Tech Tips

The photo was taken using a Fujifilm X-T1 digital camera, Fujinon 55-200mm zoom lens, and Fujifilm EF-X500 shoe mount flash.

My camera had a mysterious meltdown when I was trying to photograph the dragonfly in Mike Blust’s hand. Sincere thanks to Mike for his extraordinary patience while I was troubleshooting the problem under extreme pressure.

Editor’s Note

Sincere thanks to Mike Boatwright for taking me to a couple of odonate-hunting localities along the James River, including Hardware River WMA (see map, shown below) and Columbia Boat Landing, Cumberland County, Virginia.

Copyright © 2017 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Harpoon Clubtail dragonfly (male)

June 17, 2017

A Harpoon Clubtail dragonfly (Phanogomphus descriptus) was spotted during a photowalk at “Straight Fork Beaver Ponds,” Highland County, Virginia USA.

09 JUN 2017 | Highland County, VA | Harpoon Clubtail (male)

This individual is a male, as indicated by his terminal appendages and “indented” hind wings.

09 JUN 2017 | Highland County, VA | Harpoon Clubtail (male)

The following photograph was shot at f/11, since more depth of field was required to show the dragonfly in focus from head-to-tail. The other photos were shot at either f/7.1 or f/8.

09 JUN 2017 | Highland County, VA | Harpoon Clubtail (male)

Harpoon Clubtail is a new species of dragonfly for my life list.

09 JUN 2017 | Highland County, VA | Harpoon Clubtail (male)

Bonus Bugs

Look closely at all of the preceding photos. Did you notice the exuviae from another type of aquatic insect, possibly either mayfly or stonefly? I didn’t see the exuviae when I shot the photos, and missed them again when I post-processed the images. Sometimes I get so focused on the subject that I don’t see the bigger picture.

Tech Tips

The photos were taken using a Fujifilm X-T1 digital camera, Fujinon 55-200mm zoom lens, and Fujifilm EF-X500 shoe mount flash.

The Backstory

I attended the 2017 Dragonfly Society of the Americas Annual Meeting in Staunton, Virginia, 09-11 June 2017. Yes Virginia, there is an organization called the Dragonfly Society of the Americas (DSA). Although I’ve been a member of DSA since August 2011, the 2017 annual meeting is the first one that I’ve attended.

2017 DSA Annual Meeting | Staunton, VA (see red circle)

Source Credit: 2017 Dragonfly Society of the Americas Annual Meeting.

Staunton, Virginia is the county seat of Augusta County. Highland County is located between the western boundary of Augusta County and the border between Virginia and West Virginia. Highland County is the only place in Virginia where there are official records for Harpoon Clubtail.

DSA Distribution Viewer | Harpoon Clubtail (Phanogomphus descriptus)

Source Credit: Abbott, J.C. 2006-2017. OdonataCentral: An online resource for the distribution and identification of Odonata. Available at http://www.odonatacentral.org. (Accessed: June 13, 2017).

In the world of odonates, there are habitat generalists and habit specialists. Harpoon Clubtail is a habitat specialist, as shown clearly by the preceding distribution map of official records.

I was fortunate to be able to ride along with fellow Virginians Karen Kearney and Mike Boatwright for a road trip to Highland County. Straight Fork Beaver Ponds is a unique high-elevation habitat that is well known among expert birders and odonate hunters like Karen and Mike.

Mike scouted the location a week-or-so before the DSA meeting, so he had a good idea of the species of odonates we might see, including Harpoon Clubtail and Riffle Snaketail (Ophiogomphus carolus) dragonflies.

Sincere thanks to Karen and Mike for a fun, productive day hunting odonates with good friends!

Copyright © 2017 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Mayfly (Hexagenia sp.)

June 15, 2017

A mayfly (Hexagenia sp.) was spotted near the Potomac River at Riverbend Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a female subimago.

Editor’s Note: Special thanks to several members of the BugGuide Facebook group for help in identifying my unknown aquatic insect.

[This is] a female subimago. The males have larger eyes, and the opaqueness of the wings indicates that it is a subimago. Source Credit: Sharon Moorman, BugGuide Facebook group.

Copyright © 2017 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Northern Watersnake

June 13, 2017

A Northern Watersnake (Nerodia sipedon sipedon) was spotted during a photowalk along Pope’s Head Creek at Hemlock Overlook Regional Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA.

03 MAY 2017 | Fairfax County, VA | Northern Watersnake

Look closely at the full-size version of the following photo. Did you notice the fresh blood on the underside of its body? Also notice the scar on the dorsal side of the snake’s body. The former is probably blood from prey; the latter is probably the result of an attack by another predator.

03 MAY 2017 | Fairfax County, VA | Northern Watersnake

Copyright © 2017 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Testing 1, 2, 3.

June 11, 2017

During a trip to Riverbend Park on 09 May 2017 to observe the annual mass emergence of Cobra Clubtail dragonflies (Gomphurus vastus), I experimented with my Fujifilm X-T1 digital camera, Fujinon XF55-200mm zoom lens, and Fujifilm EF-X500 shoe mount flash.

The first photo shows a male perching on the pavement near the boat ramp at the park. Regular readers of my photoblog know I’m fond of head-tilts in which the dragonfly seems to display some of its personality.

200mm (300mm, 35mm equivalent) | f/11 | 1/500s | ISO 800 | +1 ev

The last two photos show a female, perching on a fence rail.

200mm (300mm, 35mm equivalent) | f/11 | 1/500s | ISO 800 | 0 ev

200mm (300mm, 35mm equivalent) | f/11 | 1/500s | ISO 800 | 0 ev

Tech Tips: My Fujifilm X-T1 digital camera was set for manual aperture, manual shutter speed, and automatic ISO; the EF-X500 external flash was set for ETTL.

I like to use relatively fast shutter speeds in order to reduce camera shake, resulting in more tack-sharp photos. The default flash sync speed of the X-T1 is 1/180s. (Actually, up to 1/250s works.) My new EF-X500 external flash is high-speed sync compatible so I was able to shoot at shutter speeds faster than the sync speed of the camera, in this case 1/500s. The reciprocal rule says I should have used a shutter speed of at least 1/600s at a focal length of 300mm, but I decided to go conservative and shoot at a slightly slower speed. Most of my photos turned out to be acceptably sharp.

At f/11 and 1/500s, the camera increased the ISO to 800. That’s higher than I prefer to shoot, but hey, the photos look relatively noise-free so no problem.

In my opinion, the EF-X500 external flash was consistently underpowered in ETTL mode. During follow-up testing, I rediscovered something I learned a long time ago: If you want to control the way a photo turns out, then Manual Mode is the way to go.

Copyright © 2017 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.


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